The search engine Google is growing so rapidly that it could also become many Internet users' one-stop shop for e-mailing, reading blogs, paying bills, and more. But privacy concerns have existed since the 1989 start of the World Wide Web, and it's a legitimate concern when so much data and power are in one company's hands.
Who wants one firm knowing what they e-mail, what Internet sites they visit, and how they pay their financial obligations? As Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says, "Google is becoming one of the largest privacy risks on the Internet."
That isn't to imply that Google, Inc. is up to anything sinister. The preferred search engine offers excellent privacy protection, it seeks feedback from civil liberties groups, and it listens to them.
There's plenty of worry about identity theft, but far less talk about the theft of private information from an Internet user's files. Most Internet users may sometimes feel their privacy is compromised, no matter how many fire walls and privacy statements there are. And while only some of Google's employees can gain access to personal data, users can take some comfort in knowing that any time workers access personal data it is logged to deter abuse.
Google admits it "may share" some data with agents who agree to abide by its privacy policies. Although the firm gets high marks for trust, whose fault is it if law enforcement obtains personal data that later becomes public, even if a person is not under investigation?
Internet users must ask themselves if they want government, or a teenage hacker, knowing what they read, write, and buy. Increasingly, and thanks in part to the mentality that produced the Patriot Act, law enforcement regards big search engines as its tools.
That should give us all pause.